Palo Duro Canyon is located 12 miles east of Canyon Texas on Texas 217. It is an amazing place to visit. As you travel east from Canyon, you see flat plains until you arrive at the canyon itself. The entrance is at the top and there is a visitor's center partway down. Plan to come back to that if you are in an RV because it is definitely not RV friendly unless you are in a van type camper and not towing anything. The road going down into the canyon is a narrow paved road, one lane each way with no shoulders. It twists and hairpin turns it's way down a 10% grade so it is not for a faint of heart RVer. There are some small pull-offs along the way in case you meet another RV coming the opposite way. If this kind of RV driving is not for you, you can park your RV in a very barebones RV park in a field near the entrance or there is another RV park on 217 near Canyon. I towed my 31ft 5th wheel down and back up in 2nd gear with no problem but just wanted to give you fair warning.
Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep and is the second largest canyon in North America. There are 16 miles of road in the canyon. Palo Duro is Spanish for "hard wood" in reference to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees still found in parts of the canyon. The canyon was formed less than a million years ago when the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River first carved its way through the Southern High Plains. The rocks that were exposed are 250 million years old.
The rocks at the bottom are from the Quartermaster Formation with bright red claystone and white gypsum. Next, the Tecovas Formation has yellow, gray, and lavender mudstone. Above that is the Trujillo Formation with sandstone and course gravel. Finally, the Ogallala Formation has sand, silt, clay, and limestone. You can clearly see all these various formations and layers.
Palo Duro Canyon has a rich history with Kiowa, Comanche, and Cheyenne Native Americans living here. In 1874, during the Red River Wars, Col R.S. Mackenzie was sent in to move the Native Americans to Oklahoma. The Indians fled but 1400 horses were captured and the Indian encampments were destroyed leaving them without food with winter coming on which forced them to travel on foot back to the reservation at Ft Sill. This opened up the area to white settlement.
In 1876, Charles Goodnight and John Adair established the JA Ranch in the canyon. Bison herds still roamed the plains but they were shot to make room for the cattle. Mary Ann Goodnight, Charles' wife, was concerned that the bison would become extinct so she saved many of the young bison and had a sizable herd. The remains of that herd are what we just saw at Caprock Canyon.
There is a wide variety of plants in the canyon. You can see mesquite, cottonwood, salt cedar, willow, western soapberry, and hackberry. There are also many grass species and wildflowers such as Indian Blanket, star thistle, sunflower, paperflower, blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, sideoats grama, buffalograss, sage brush, yucca, and prickly pear cactus. Below are Spanish daggers with their flower seedpods.
Sunday night we attended the outdoor musical play "Texas" at the Pioneer Amphitheatre. This is the 50th year for the show at the canyon. That is an amazing accomplishment and the play is enjoyable for all ages. There are no bad seats as the amphitheatre is steeply tiered. It starts with a lone horseman carrying the Texas flag riding across the top of the canyon above the stage just at dusk.
Unfortunately, I can't show you any photos since pictures aren't allowed during the play but it is definitely enjoyable. We also had the barbeque dinner before the show. They have shaded tables set up and we enjoyed that as well.
After dinner, we enjoyed the music show on the grounds.
It was a great way to end our first day at Palo Duro Canyon.,